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Social Sustainability and Sport

By Presidio Sports

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing student blogging series entitled The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Kathleen Hatch

As the sustainability movement in sport expands, it’s time to leverage the power of people and focus our attention on social responsibility and inclusion. Think about it – every athlete, team, and league sets out to succeed, from amateurs enjoying a recreational league to teams at an international competition.  Success is measured in various ways, ranging from the win-loss record and TV and media market share, to ticket sales and fan engagement. Now, there is a newer metric focused on mitigating impacts to the environment and the preservation of natural resources.  It's time to expand these more quantifiable metrics to include diversity and other hard-to-quantify measures of social sustainability.

The National Hockey League (NHL) led the way as the first major sports association to publicly report on its league-wide carbon footprint. The league recently released a comprehensive 2014 NHL sustainability report.

This first, path-breaking step required significant leadership from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He recognized that sustainability isn’t only about doing right by the environment -- rather it can be a well-thought out, long range core strategy for league success.  The NHL sustainability report provides great examples of broad goals for social sustainability, including preserving frozen ponds for aspiring hockey players.

Consumers are a vital component of the sports industry. They have an emotional connection to the competition of sports, action, and the larger sense of community that sports teams can mobilize.  Data gathered by the NHL indicates that relative to the general population, sports fans disproportionately care more about the environment and expect greater stewardship from teams and leagues.  This is not just relevant in professional sports but in collegiate athletics and recreation as well.

What if the same energy deployed to advance technology and development of innovative lighting and cooling systems, playing surfaces and training facilities, and renewable energy, were galvanized toward creating a more inclusive sports culture?

There are promising examples that show how being more inclusive and socially responsible resulted in a team advancing many valuable goals, including: widening its fan base, more innovative marketing efforts, building thriving and diverse communities, and strengthening the value of a team or venue’s brands. To name a few:

  • WNBA was the first professional sports league to specifically reach out to LGBT fans;
  • Michael Sam’s jersey was the number one pre-season seller after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams;
  • NIKE #BETRUE retail line set record sales and strengthened the corporate value that everyone is an athlete

One important voice promoting inclusion and diversity is Billy Bean, appointed this July as Ambassador of Inclusion by Major League Baseball.   Whether a response to the social revolution taking place in America or just the natural path of baseball leadership ready to act – it doesn’t matter – according to Bean, baseball will “lead with its social conscience and vision.”

Photo courtesy NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation

Kathleen Hatch is currently working as a consultant and recently completed service as President of NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.  Follow Kathleen on twitter @KathleenHatch1 or call 509.592.3596

Presidio Sports headshotPresidio Sports

This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

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